Defence rights during the pretrial criminal proces

The ECBA has been involved in several projects and commented on proposals that impact on the rights of the defence in pre-trial criminal proceedings.

The latest project is as a partner in a EU funded project entitled “Defence rights during the pre-trial criminal proceedings” which is headed by the Austrian Criminal Bar Association, in cooperation with the ECBA, and the Universities of Graz, Ljubljana,  Vienna and Zagreb.

The findings of the report have been presented at the ECBA’s conference in Ljubljana in October 2010 and you will find a summary below.

The ECBA has also been involved in the discussion on the EU’s proposal on mutual recognition of non-custodial pre-trial supervision measures.

Click here for the report on the experts meeting on pre-trail detention 9 February 2009.
Click here for a summary of comments from other jurisdictions.

Towards Pre-trial Detention as Ultima Ratio – Research and Action (2016/17)

 In the 47 Member States of the Council of Europe more than 325.000 prisoners are held in pre-trial detention, more than 100.000 of them in the 28 Member States of the European Union. Pre-trial detention serves above all procedural purposes: to prevent a suspect from absconding, or from tampering with evidence. The justice systems must have a way of ensuring that those accused stand trial. Furthermore, detention may be a measure necessary because of a high risk that a suspect carries out (further) offences of a severe nature. Often, however, detention seems just the easiest way of achieving this end. This is contrary to the principle that, with respect to the fundamental right to liberty and the presumption of innocence, deprivation of liberty must only be applied when less severe mechanisms are insufficient to exercise control over the suspect and to guarantee his or her presence at trial (as ultima ratio). Generally, the principle of subsidiarity must be applied in a way that the suspect or accused may await the trial process in conditions of unrestricted liberty or, where justified, under specified restrictions. In prisons, remand detainees often suffer from worse conditions than sentenced prisoners - the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) has called this a pan-European problem. Another common problem is an often-observed excessive length of pre-trial detention.

To uphold the fundamental right to freedom as well the presumption of innocence for the suspect by avoiding pre-trial detention also means to avoid harm for indirectly affected people like children or spouses and to avoid costs to affected persons and to society as a whole. The European Convention of Human Rights and initiatives by the EU show that member states share common values in this regard at least to a certain degree. This is further expressed in recommendations by the Council of Europe in this field, for example on prisoners’ rights. But even if there is a common set of values, differences in legal systems as well as the variance in pre-trial detention rates in the member states indicate that there are considerable discrepancies in how the ultima ratio principle is put into practice. These cannot be explained by differences with respect to the crime structure or to social conditions.

Without questioning the sovereignty of the member states in criminal matters, the increasing need for transnational cooperation and the increasing number of cross border cases ask for mutual understanding. Mutual understanding and trust, however, are built up best on the basis of knowledge about the systems, procedures and practice in other countries as well as on the basis of common standards. The DETOUR-project aimed at both: The project was about exploring and analyzing pre-trial detention practice and especially ways of reducing the use of pre-trial detention in seven European jurisdictions (Austria, Germany, Romania, Belgium, Lithuania, Ireland and the Netherlands).

After thorough desktop research on the legal preconditions and on the overall context of pre-trial detention in the participating countries, the first step of the empirical work consisted of collecting and analyzing qualitative data by conducting observations and file analyses. This data provided the basis for in-depth interviews with a strong focus on the stance of prosecutors and judges and how they assess the decision-making process in the pre-trial phase. We consider that the views, perceptions and experiences of the judiciary are crucial to avoid pre-trial detention. Therefore, we put special emphasis on their assessment of the legal provisions, of the availability of alternatives, as well as of problems and obstacles relevant for the avoidance of pre-trial detention. To broaden the picture, we however also included the perceptions and views of attorneys, as well as of representatives of organizations offering their services to avoid pre-trial detention. Of particular interest were also the high numbers of foreigners in pre-trial detention in many countries and the increasing number of cross-border cases that need to be solved within the EU. After the empirical work first results were presented to and discussed with practitioners at three international workshops. The final outcomes were presented at the international conference “Confronting dilemmas of pre-trial detention” in November 2017, in Vienna.

The outcomes of the project suggest that there are many threats to the ultima ratio principle, that there is much need to strengthen it, to pay attention to it und to over and over again remind of its importance. Find the comparative report, the recommendations and the national reports of the project partners at the projects website

 The project was funded by the Justice Programme of the European Commission

 Project Coordination – Institute for the Sociology of Law and Criminology: Dr. Walter Hammerschick, Veronika Reidinger (Austria)

Scientific Co-coordinator - Ernst-Moritz-Arndt Universität Greifswald/Freie Universität Berlin: Prof. Dr. Christine Morgenstern, Eva Tanz (Germany)


  • Nationaal Instituut voor Criminalistiek en Criminologie / Institut National de Criminalistique et de Criminologie (NICC/INCC): Dr. Eric Maes, Dr. Alexia Jonckheere, Magali Deblock (Belgium)
  • Utrecht University: Prof. Dr. Miranda Boone, Dr. Pauline Jacobs, Dr. J.M.W. Lindeman (The Netherlands)
  • Association of Schools of Social Work in Romania/ University of Bucharest, Faculty of Sociology and Social Work: Prof. Dr. Ioan Durnescu, Gabriel Oancea (Romania)
  • Law Institute of Lithuania: Dr. Skirmantas Bikelis, Virgilijus Pajaujis (Lithuania)
  • Trinity College Dublin: Prof. Mary Rogan, David Perry (Ireland)


The ECBA was an Associate Partner in the SUPRALAT project which has now been concluded.

Please click here to read the end report by Anna Pivaty.  

The SUPRALAT-project specifically aimed to:

  •  Develop a practice-oriented training programme for lawyers, that focuses on proceedings in the police detention stage, and pilot it in four EU Member States. The selected Member States are Belgium, Hungary, Ireland and the Netherlands.
  •  Advocate for practice-oriented training on facilitating suspects’ rights in pre-trial proceedings to become part of professional training curricula for criminal lawyers in EU Member States.
  •  Contribute to the exchange of best practices on facilitating the rights envisaged in the Directives among lawyers across the EU.
  •  As a result of SUPRALAT-project, to which the ECBA is partner, we will organise a workshop in which we will test/simulate a part of the innovative training program, intended to equip lawyers with the necessary skills to effectuate the rights of suspects at the early stages of the criminal proceedings in practice.

The project contributed to the implementation of newly-adopted EU Directives on suspects’ procedural rights – and especially the Directive on the right of access to a lawyer – in EU Member States.

To learn more about the project, please visit the website:

Workshop at the ECBA Spring Conference 2017 

SUPRALAT project team delivered a workshop at the 2017 ECBA Spring Conference. The workshop focused on the lawyer's role during suspect interrogation - in European law, national law, and in practice (which becomes of relevance after the transposition date of the Directive on the Right of Access to a Lawyer on 27 November 2016).